European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton talks to the media as she arrives at a EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels March 17, 2014. Photo by Reuters
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The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Monday that the EU opposes boycotts against Israel and reiterated that the EU will offer Israel and the Palestinians "unprecedented" support measures if they agree on a peace deal.

At a press conference in Brussels after a meeting mainly on the Ukraine crisis with 28 EU Foreign Ministers, Ashton said the ministers also dealt briefly with the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

The EU "opposes a boycott of Israeli companies and businesses. We don't want to see Israel isolated," she said. She added that the EU is firmly against settlement policy. 

Last August, the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, issued guidelines stipulating that any Israeli legal entity wishing to receive funding, participate in a project or compete for grants or awards given by foundations or agencies of the EU will have to submit a statement declaring that it has no direct or indirect link to the settlements in the West Bank or East Jerusalem or on the Golan Heights. The EU is also now finalizing guidelines to make clear that under EU consumer protection law, retailers must specify the origin of products imported from Israeli settlements.

‘’The EU fully supports U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts as well as the Israeli and Palestinian engagement,’’ Ashton told reporters. She reiterated that the EU is prepared to offer Israel and the Palestinians an ‘’unprecedented’’ package of support measures if they agree on a deal. The package will "provide huge opportunities in trade, research, innovation that will benefit both Israel and the Palestinians."

"We want to see progressive market integration, trade and investment facilitation," along with deeper ties in research and security cooperation, she said. 

"In terms of reading out the list, yes I was very clear that we needed to start to set out what we meant by the unprecedented support," she said. "I hope that this positive approach" proves that the EU "will put our energy and resources behind" a peace agreement.

Ashton added that "Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas need to make important decisions."

Israel and the Palestinians are heading toward the end of a nine-month period of negotiations in April. On Monday, Abbas met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington to discuss the peace process. Netanyahu also met with Obama in Washington earlier this month.

After meeting with Abbas, Obama said that reaching a peace deal would be very hard and challenging. "We're going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we are able to move it forward and I hope we will see progress in the coming days and weeks."